WASHINGTON – Attorney General Eric Holder today endorsed the reauthorization of the Second Chance Act, bipartisan legislation introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy and Rob Portman and its companion legislation by Representatives Danny Davis and F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. that provides resources and support to people reintegrating into their communities after being incarcerated. The Attorney General’s endorsement came while visiting a graduation ceremony for participants of Project EARN, a federal reentry court in St. Louis. The visit highlighted the department’s “Smart on Crime” initiative that seeks to reform the criminal justice system, improve reentry programs, and pursue alternatives to incarceration for low-level, non-violent offenses.
During Fiscal Year 2013 under the Second Chance Act, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Office of Juvenile Justice funded over 100 grants, totaling more than $62 million, to support improved probation, parole, and reentry programs throughout America. The grants include mental health and substance abuse treatment initiatives, technology career training programs, juvenile reentry efforts, and smart probation projects. If Congress fails to reauthorize the Second Chance Act, countless neighborhoods will no longer have the critical support that has helped make profound and positive differences.
Please see below for the Attorney General’s prepared remarks in St. Louis.
REMARKS AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY BY ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER AT PROJECT EARN GRADUATION CEREMONY
Thank you, Your Honor – and good morning, everyone. It is a pleasure to be here in St. Louis, and a privilege to stand with each of the participants – and, especially, the graduates – of this remarkable program.
I appreciate the opportunity to share this moment with you. And I am honored to join all of the proud family members and friends who are with us today in celebrating your achievements, reflecting on the progress you’ve made, and reaffirming your individual commitments to yourselves, your communities – and your futures.
First, to our graduates: I know the journey that has led you to this moment has not been easy. I know you’ve had to work hard and overcome tremendous adversity.
At times, it’s been an uphill battle. But the fact that you stand before this Court as Project EARN graduates is not only inspiring – it is proof of the strength, and the sheer determination, that defines you. And it’s emblematic of the courage that defines everyone who has the resolve to enter treatment and keep moving down the long and difficult – but ultimately rewarding – road to recovery.
For our graduates – and for those who aspire to join them – I know this program has presented both an opportunity and a challenge. It has required you to be honest with yourselves, and with your families and friends. It has demanded that you confront your weaknesses and acknowledge past mistakes. And it has given you the chance not only to reclaim your future, but to build a new one.
We can all be proud of the positive strides that our four distinguished graduates have made in this regard.
After a great deal of hard work, Kenneth Johnson is expected to earn his degree in HVAC next month. And he’s already giving back to those around him by helping others stay on the right path and maintain a sober lifestyle.
Roger Jenkins is a full-time college student who’s only three credits away from earning his degree. He’s keeping busy – running his own carpet cleaning business, which I’m glad to hear is thriving, and placing a renewed focus on his wonderful family.
Donald Westrich has turned his back on decades of drug use. He’s been sober for more than a year. And, in addition to maintaining full-time employment, he’s become active in his community through a local church.
Last but not least, Michael Stephens has undergone a remarkable transformation. After a difficult start in this program, he has been free of cocaine use for more than a year. He’s served as a source of inspiration to many of those around him. And I’m told that he always has a smile on his face.
Each of these graduates is here as a result of months of hard work, dedication, and willpower. Today, they stand among the ranks of well over a million people who have graduated from drug courts like this one across the country.
I hope those of you who are still making your way through this program will be encouraged by what they’ve accomplished.
As you keep moving forward, I want you to know that you have my support, and the support of my colleagues at every level of the Department of Justice – as well as President Obama and others throughout the Administration.
All of us are committed to the same goals that have driven leading criminal justice professionals to come together – here in St. Louis – to create this innovative program. And we’re determined to keep building on the successes you’re making possible – not only in this community, but across the country.
In fact, I am pleased to announce today that, during Fiscal Year 2013, the Justice Department funded over 100 grants totaling more than $62 million under the landmark Second Chance Act. These important funds support improved probation, parole, and reentry programs throughout America. And they have the potential to make a real difference in countless neighborhoods.
That’s why it’s imperative that we keep up the good work. I want to take this opportunity to call on Congress to pass legislation, introduced yesterday by U.S. Senators [Patrick] Leahy and [Rob] Portman, which would reauthorize and strengthen the Second Chance Act. This law enjoys broad, bipartisan support. And its timely reauthorization would enable us to institutionalize our commitments to programs like this one – and continue providing the resources necessary to make good on our nation’s promise of equality, opportunity, and justice under law.
We must support these programs because we recognize that – as our graduates here have shown – better treatment, and expanded access to the resources you need, can result in better outcomes and brighter futures for many who come into contact with the criminal justice system.
This is something I’ve seen firsthand. During my time as a judge on the Superior Court in Washington, D.C. – and later as United States Attorney for the District of Columbia – I learned how drug abuse, crime, and incarceration can trap people in a destructive cycle. A cycle that weakens communities, tears families apart, and destroys individual lives.
Day after day, I watched lines of young people – most often young men of color – stream through my courtroom. Too many of the faces I saw became familiar – because too many of the people I sentenced served their time, were released from prison, and sooner or later returned to the same behavior that had led them to my courtroom in the first place.
That’s one reason why I’m passionate about programs like this one – programs that can help strong, committed individuals like you to break that cycle and gain the tools you need to reenter your communities and lead productive and fulfilling lives.
But I’m also here today because I understand that our country has a broader obligation to stand with you, and to support you – because we’re not fundamentally different.
I grew up in a neighborhood – in Queens – where people like you would have been my friends. We would have gone to school, and partied, and played basketball together.
So I can’t help but feel mindful of the fact that, although I’m here in my capacity as Attorney General of the United States, a few of the people I grew up with – good people, like you –ended up taking very different paths. Some of them didn’t catch the same breaks. Some had to deal with drug issues. And some became involved with the criminal justice system – because of bad luck, or bad choices, or both.
I’ve seen how tough it can be for people in your shoes to turn your lives around, to deal with unfairness, and to overcome adversity. I know that everyone makes mistakes – everyone. Including me. And that’s why I wanted to be here today: to tell you in person how proud I am that each of you has decided not to let your mistakes define you – and not to make excuses – but to make the most of the opportunities that you’ve been given.
You’re here today because you’re smart. You have the skills and the determination not just to make positive contributions, but to become role models for those around you – especially the young people who will learn from your examples.
Never forget that you have a responsibility to these kids – to talk to them, to serve as mentors, to help them learn from your mistakes, and to ensure that their lives aren’t interrupted or cut short.
For those of you who are graduating today – Kenneth, Roger, Donald, and Michael – I congratulate you on this extraordinary achievement. For those who are just starting Project EARN, or who are well on your way – I am proud of every one of you.
I am confident in your ability to keep moving forward, to become leaders and role models in your neighborhoods, and to make the difference that our fellow citizens – and especially our young people – need and deserve.
Congratulations, once again – and keep up the great work. I expect to hear great things about all that you’ll do and achieve from this moment forward.
For more information about the department’s “Smart on Crime” initiative, please visit http://www.justice.gov/ag/smart-on-crime.pdf.